PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE PARKE
I first became aware of Old School Bruja when an invitation was floating around Facebook last spring for a Witch’s High Tea in Baltimore, where Enchanted Living is based. (It’s the hometown of founder and publisher Kim Cross.) Several people I knew were planning on going, according to the notifications, and obviously I had to go too. A Witch’s High Tea? Yes, please! I clicked on the name Old School Bruja and sent a message, and then later that day I went to meet Old School Bruja herself. I don’t know what I was expecting really, but it wasn’t this glowing, luminous, magical, goddess-like woman who emanated joy and laughed regularly while drinking unicorn tea with me in her bright kitchen and showing me her sunflower garden out back. Sunflowers for the orisha Oshun, she said.
Her name is Linnet Williams. She’s lived in Baltimore for a decade but hails from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from a block full of Puerto Rican and Dominican families where every mother, aunt, and grandmother was a bruja (or witch) and no one saw any conflict between attending Catholic church and casting spells at home using shells and herbs and stones. Williams describes a childhood in which her father took her to Home Depot and the mechanic’s and her mother took her to the grocery store and the local brujas—different ones, depending on what spells or protections she needed. These visits were kept secret from her father and brother, Williams said: “The men only participated when they were in big trouble, and in general were pretty apprehensive about it.”
Williams describes a childhood full of magic and a mother who was constantly placing protection spells on her. “She was always doing stuff to heal me and protect me,” she says, giving her ritual baths with oils and herbs and flower petals, performing any number of spells, lighting candles dressed in oils, and making offerings to the orishas—the gods and goddesses in the African-Caribbean spiritual traditions. Williams would wake up to find her mother standing by her bed, praying and chanting over her. She received her first visit from Spirit, as she calls it, when she was four and lying in her Strawberry Shortcake canopy bed. A man came—in “clear jelly form,” she remembers—and took her to a long red, black, and gold table piled with fruit and juice. “This is all yours,” he said. Later she would identify him as the orisha Elegua. She says he still visits her in dreams; they go on walks together and he takes her back to that same table.
By the time Williams was seven, she was reading matches, a trick she learned from one of the brujas. She can’t remember when she first started doing other types of magic—she was always doing them, really, helping her mother as a child. She describes one scary meeting when a male brujo had her describe a vision in a bowl of water as her mother watched. And then, in high school, she learned Wicca and melded all the teachings together. The two practices in which she became formally initiated, in her twenties, are Palo Mayombe and Ifa, both nature-based African-Caribbean spiritual traditions. All of this, she says, was guided by Spirit, though she didn’t start her formal healing practice until later, instead working as a model and a social worker for some years while also having her share of fun. “In my twenties,” she says, “anytime I had Bacardi I turned into psychic medium at the club and everyone got a free reading!”
But when you’re not aligned with your spiritual path, she says, your whole life can go askew. She became ill and at one point lost everything. Finally she “went back to the source” and rebuilt her life, ending up working at a spiritually based nonprofit, helping women in recovery. As she started practicing brujeria for some of these women, she became so busy with private clients that she’d take vacation days just to meet with them. Four years ago, she quit her job and began her healing practice full time, after consulting with Spirit and confirming through a card reading, fire reading, and shell reading that this was what she was meant to do.
Now she works with clients in Baltimore one on one and also leads workshops and classes to assemble a “healing community”—a “village,” she says—and she volunteers at a youth center. There she helps at-risk young people find some sort of release for an hour at a time, “some sort of alignment” and affirmation. “I do my best to protect them,” she says. “It’s a constant battle.” The city, she says, is in need of healing, and she occasionally performs rituals at Druid Hill Park, where unmarked graves of slaves lie below—and where these joyful, powerful photos were shot. She also is, at thirty-seven, a grandmother. She had her daughter Mariah at age sixteen (with her mother in the room, praying wildly) and to this day performs all manner of spells and enchantments on her daughter the way her own mother did on her. “I put so many protections on that child,” she says. Now twenty-one, Mariah is not ready to practice herself yet. “She’s magical,” Williams says. “Spirit will be here for her when she’s ready.”
Learn more about Linnet Williams at oldschoolbruja.com. You can also tune into the Old School Bruja Radio Show at Ripped Radio Network, Spotify, Amazon TV, Roku, Facebook, Twitter, and Periscope.